Monday, October 3, 2011

Better the Devil You Know

Photo credit: Idea go

I just found a new, totally effective way to get my kids to pick up after themselves. I’m sure it’s not psychiatrist-recommended and I know it can’t last forever… but – hey – it’s working now and that’s all I care about for the moment.

So, the back story: a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to get the kids (ages 2 and 4) to pick up their Legos such before moving on to the next mess. As usual, they put away one or two things before getting distracted and going about their business. I tried encouraging them (“good job!”), standing over them (“now pick up that one…and that one…”), bribing them (“don’t you want to go to the playground later…?”), and yelling at them (you know how it goes), but they pretty much ignored me.

Out of desperation, I grabbed a metal musical triangle and said in my most steely voice: “If you don’t finish cleaning up right now, I’m going to ring this triangle.”

They looked up at me, wordless. Surprise –and concern – on their faces.

Sensing the shift of power in the room, I rolled with it. Lifting the triangle and metal beater, I said again with dead calm: “I mean it. I’m going to ring it.”

The four-year old shouted: “No, Mama! Don’t!” and scrambled to clean up the toys. Because the 2-year old does everything his brother does, he echoed, “No! Don’t!” and got busy too.

I wasn’t sure that it would work a second time, but it has. And a third and fourth. Of course, I only use it as a last resort since I don’t want its powers to wear off.

Lil’Dawg clearly suspects that nothing will happen if I ring the triangle, but he doesn’t dare test me. Only once when I said threateningly, “Do you want me to ring the triangle?” he answered ‘yes. But he watched my face carefully. When I moved to get it, he immediately cried, “No, no! I’m cleaning up!”

Actually, they haven’t even needed the triangle threat lately. I don’t know if the triangle has anything to do with it, but they’ve been much better about cleaning up.

I suppose if I were a more conscientious mother, I’d worry about the effect of scaring them with one of their own toys, but – meh. Twenty years from now, they may blame me for being unable to fulfill their dream of being a percussionist in the Philharmonic, but at least they’ll be tidy.

Okay, come on –let me feel the mama love…. What are the more, um, creative disciplining techniques that you’ve used with your kids?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Naked Truth about Germans

(We're not in Germany in this picture...but we ain't in America either)

I always found amusing that episode of Sex & The City where Charlotte was traumatized at the thought of being getting naked in the steam room at her gym. Unable to drop her towel, she flees the room, crying, “I didn’t grow up in a naked house!”

Charlotte, girl: I feel your pain. I definitely didn’t grow up in a naked house. In general, black families don't play that. But I don't think it's just a racial thing. America is not a naked country. Nekkid ladies at the gym and nudist colonies notwithstanding, we Americans like our genitalia nice and covered, thank you very much.

So it’s a little weird to me that running around naked is very much part of my children’s culture.

As you know, I am married to a German. As far as I can tell, most Germans grow up in a naked house. Go to any beach, lake, river, pond, canal, pool or water fountain in Germany, prepare to throw your hands over your eyes. You'll see far more bouncing, jiggling naked flesh than you ever cared to see. Naked people fishing. Waving from boats. Taking a stroll along a shore. Gardening (I swear, I've seen it). And you're not even safe if people wear bathing suits, because when they decide to change into their regular clothes, off the bathing suits go without so much as a discrete towel in place.

I’m kind of used to Rampant German Nakedness now, but this wasn’t always the case. I got my first taste of it about 12 years ago, when my husband Dawg (back then, my new boyfriend) and I traveled from New York to Germany for the baptism of my husband’s Godson.

Now, “nakedness” and “baptism” aren’t really two concepts that go hand-in-hand. For example, you wouldn’t think to yourself: “Oh, I really have to get in shape for this baptism because we might end up naked afterwards.” Right? But that’s what happened.

Oh, I didn’t get naked. But after the baptism and a lovely, graceful lunch, we went for a walk in the woods, came upon a lake, and the next thing I knew every single one of my new boyfriend’s friends, male and female, were stripping off their clothes and frolicking about, buck naked, in the water. I remember sitting on a nearby log, dazed, wearing the red and white silk dress I had bought for the occasion, feeling ridiculously overdressed. I didn’t know where to look, especially when various naked friends came up to me, dripping wet, asking didn’t I want to join in? (I couldn't really look any of them in the eye for days after. A case of knowing too much, too soon.)

Mercifully, Dawg did not abandon me to frolic with his friends, but sat with me on the log. I can’t remember the exact words of our conversation, but I vaguely recall a hastily whispered explanation of the significance of FreiK√∂rperKultur (Free Body Culture) and the assurance that I didn’t need to participate.

And now my kids are a part of this. Every time we get near the smallest body water, my boys start stripping. Actually, they don’t even wait for water. Even just running around the house, they prefer to be “free.” My husband doesn’t bat an eye at this and I know that many little kids like to shun clothes, so I try to be cool. But give me time and eventually you’ll see me sprinting after them, brandishing a pair of underwear. I know it’s all innocent and silly for me to care, but in the end, this part of my culture appears to be deeply engrained in me. I’m just not that comfortable with having a naked house.

I think I’m fighting a losing battle, though. We spent the last week in Corsica, and my kids never wore clothes when they didn’t have to. At one point we were on the beach when, apropos of nothing, my oldest boy stopped playing in the sand and proclaimed dramatically, “ I NEVER want to wear a bathing suit!”

Oh boy. Think I'll have some 'splaining to do when we're at the beach in the U.S. this summer.

* Full disclosure: I did go topless on a Greek beach once on my honeymoon. To be honest, it was kinda of nice!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finding Balance in Life

(Photo credit: Michelle Meiklejohn,

I couldn't decide where to put this post because I think the advice is useful for both moms and freelancers. So, I'm doing something I've never done before and cross-posting it at my other blog, The Expat Freelancer. Wherever you're reading it, I hope you find it helpful!

Last week, the Urban Muse posed the question: what is your biggest challenge as a freelance writer? Many of the responses, including my own, concerned finding a suitable work-life balance. Because we freelancers don’t have to punch the clock, it’s all too easy to allow one aspect of our life – usually work –to dominate the other

But you know what? One day, last September, I did it. For about, oh, four hours, I understood my life to be in perfect balance. Don’t laugh! As far as I'm concerned feeling that the world is perfectly aligned for four hours is an amazing achievement. As an expat, I am perpetually seeking – consciously or not – to find a balance between my own culture with that of my adopted country. Because I’m married to someone of a different nationality, I have to do the same in my marriage. Throw a couple of young kids and a new career into the mix and you’ve got one off-kilter lady.

But last September, for that brief period, it all worked. More than worked – it flowed.

That day was no less busy than any other. I had to drop my three-year old off at school and then pick him up three hours later. I had two big assignments due that I hadn’t yet begun. The baby had a doctor’s appointment later. My husband was out of town for the week, so, I’d have to handle the exhausting evening rituals (dinner, bath, bed) by myself and then pray that the kids would stay asleep so that I could work as late as I could, then get some sleep myself. Normally on days such as this, my mind is constantly abuzz, skipping ahead to the next task on my list before I’ve completed the first one. But on this day, as I picked up my son from school, my mind grew quiet.

As we walked down the street, I noticed that the sky was a deep, pure blue and that the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn yellow-brown. I became aware of the pressure of my son’s hand in mine, of the sweet, singing quality of his voice, and of the rush of pleasure these things gave me. I enjoyed the way the autumn breeze made my open trench coat flap slightly as we walked, and the tapping sound my boots made on the pavement. With every step we took, I grew more and more connected with everything around me, as if I were beginning to see my place in part of an enormous, smoothly functioning machine. For once, I wasn’t borrowing time from the future or the past. Every moment belonged to itself. I was wholly – in New Age parlance – “in the moment.”

This sense of connectedness lasted until we got on the metro, and then slowly began to dissipate. But I didn’t feel any panic or depression as the feeling left me. Instead, I felt both relaxed and empowered. I suddenly understood the key to having a balanced life: being truly present.

Riding the metro home, I had no urge to check my cell phone, check my to-do list, make notes on an article, send out a tweet, dwell on my crammed schedule or engage in any of my usual multi-tasking habits. I was simply happy to sit and listen to my son tell me how he “drew a picture of my belly” at school (no, I wasn’t pregnant – thanks kid.)

When I got home and turned my son over to the babysitter, I sat down to work without guilt and without anxiety for the tasks ahead. Time felt different to me; both more precious and more plentiful. It occurred to me that we generally view time as something that is forever slipping away from us, not as something that we always have. But we do always have time. Maybe not time enough to achieve every task on our list, but time enough to fully appreciate the things we can accomplish.

Since this revelation, can I now claim to always have a perfectly balanced life? God, no. But now, whenever I feel overwhelmed with work or life, I take a moment to recognize that it’s not necessarily my work-life balance that needs adjusting – but my attitude. Multi-tasking, letting my mind wander, worrying about anything except the matters in front of me can make my whole world spin.

Taking a good look at the advantages, opportunities and beauty of the moment sets it right again.

How about you? What helps you to find balance?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My So-Called Glamorous Life

(happier times at the Places des Vosges)

We expat Paris-dwellers are perceived to have the ultimate good life.

Our friends and family back home fantasize about us spending our days strolling on the banks of the Seine as cherry blossoms rain down upon our heads. We head back to our exquisitely-appointed apartments, all of which come with a view of the Eiffel Tower, Louis XV furniture, and a bottle of champagne chilling in a silver bucket.

No matter what bad things befall us - broken limbs, swine flu, car accidents - the mere fact that we live in Paris makes it all better. By virtue of living here, our lives of suffused with glamour.

It probably won’t help matters, but I’ve decided to create a “glamour scale” to make an objective assessment of the glamour level of my days. With this scale, I will attempt the convey the truth of my life in Paris.

The scale goes from 0-10, with "10" being the equivalent of me having a strawberry-and-champagne brunch on top of the Eiffel Tower during Fashion Week with the world's top models, Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld and -- let's see -- Johnny Depp, who keeps lavishing me with an embarrassing amount of attention.

At the other end of the scale, a 0 on the glamour equals... well, let's take a look at Monday.


On Monday, after my son’s violin lesson (glamour scale: 5)

I took the kids to the playground at the Place des Vosges (glamour scale: 7)

After a half-hour of pleasant play in this lovely 17th century square (glamour scale: 7)

My 20-month old ran away from the sandbox and I had to chase after him (glamour scale: 4)

While I caught up with him, I see my 3.5 year old standing in the sandbox, looking around for me (glamour scale: 4)

As I urge 20-month old back to the sandbox, I see 3.5 year old drop his pants (glamour scale: 2)

I scoop up baby and race back to the sandbox, screaming “Noo! Nooooo!” (glamour scale: 0)

I arrive as he’s just finished peeing into the sandbox at Place des Vosges (glamour scale: 0)

All the other parents are staring at us in disbelief? disgust? as I pull up my confused little boy’s pants and gently scold him (glamour scale: -10)

I grab the kids’ shovel and bucket, scoop up the pee-soaked sand, and toss it into the grass (glamour scale: -15)

I defiantly let the kids continue to play, determined not to slink off in shame (glamour scale: 1)

After a respectable amount of time has passed (5 minutes), I throw the kids and their toys in the stroller and peel out of there -- heading to the anonymity of the rides at St. Paul. (glamour scale: 5)

Total Glamour Score: 0.8333333

So there you have it. This is my so-called glamorous life.